Equal parts medieval and Middle Eastern, the pieces on Robin Crutchfield’s 2009 release, Hidden Folk, are like Middle Earth-themed vignettes from Crutchfield’s imagination. A Performance artist in the 70s and co-founder of the experimental no wave art band, DNA, Crutchfield began creating “drone soundscapes for daydreamers” in 2007 using harp, lyre, psalteries—a stringed instrument like the harp—and the tanpura, an Indian drone lute.
These structurally ambivalent instrumental pieces rely heavily on quartertones, stereo panning and acoustic glissandos. The notes run up and down as they move from ear to ear, giving you the impression that the instrument Crutchfield is playing is inside your head. The panning and glissandos keep the pieces moving and add intrigue to what could have been an overly soporific album.
The question is: do I want to visit Crutchfield’s world more than a few times a year, preferably when I’m stoned? Probably not.
Still, Crutchfield paces his songs well. Each composition is steady, constantly moving, and mercifully short. “Winkies Wake Up Call” sounds like strained church bells and wind rustling, perfectly evoking the title in only 36 seconds. Even longer songs, like the four and a half minute “Trolling The Tin Mines” move along quickly. Three repeating notes travel in an arch over your head, rolling along.
The whole concept is a little well worn, but if you let yourself get into it, it’s easy to imagine Crutchfield’s version of a hidden, magical world. The medieval and Middle Eastern instruments create the drone soundscape Crutchfield envisioned and ground what could be an overly whimsical album, which it’s isn’t. It’s weird and dark, but almost cheerfully so. Kind of like a Grimm fairytale.
The standout element of this album is the stereo, which is why you should listen to it on headphones. Crutchfield’s decision to create music that skirts back and forth in your head adds a necessary dynamic to these experimental songs—urgency. Crutchfield has invited us into the world of the hidden folk, but he’s also eager to escort us out.